Here's what you need to focus on in this movie....the eyes. I was amazed at these talented actress's ability to convey their feelings through a look.
Focus on Skeeter's big innocent eyes. They are huge. Her eyes show the confusion of a young girl who was raised and benefited from the hard work of her family's maid, Constantine (beautifully acted as an aging maid by Cicely Tyson), and then are slowly woken up to the unfairness of the system. Skeeter (played beautifully by Emma Stone) is the perennial awkward girl with unruly red hair and no experience with men or life, really. Her mother is beside herself to get Hilly married, and with no man in sight, she's getting desperate. She's come home from college with two degrees and a burning desire to write. In trying to reinsert herself into the life she had in high school, she finds that she's outgrown her old group of friends who have all married and are starting their lives just like their mothers before them. Skeeter doesn't fit, and this uncomfortable feeling kick starts the actions that will open her eyes.
Aibileene is the maid of one of her friends that Skeeter interviews in her first job as a columnist for the local paper. Skeeter needs to find out some household cleaning tips, and she's never had to clean a house. Imagine! Focus on Aibileen's dead eyes. This actress, Viola Davis, deserves an Oscar for her ability to show the pain of someone who's stuck in a role from birth. She has suffered some huge pain in her life of raising her employer's children over the years, giving them the love and care that she was unable to give to her own son. Aibileen is the tempest in the tea pot of this tale, because of her courage to talk with Skeeter, when to even do so in this time in the south might have caused her to be jailed, beaten, or even killed. The fear is real.
Watch Minny's startled eyes, popping from her face in disbelief, in repressed anger, in rage. Minny is the second maid to help Skeeter with her project, and being fired from her job by the town bitch is the impetus that pushes her over the edge. In getting fired, Minny sets of the chain of events that keep the story moving with her gift of pie, with the change of address for the elder Mrs. Walters (played beautifully in this small part by Sissy Spacek. Kudos to her for taking on the role of an elder southern woman and giving it everything she had!) I won't give away the delicious pie story, but it's hilarious. Minny takes the brunt of being fired in her own home by putting herself at the mercy of her brute of a husband and by being black-listed by her ex-employer in town so that she can't find another job.
Then watch out for the diamond hard eyes of Hilly - the spoiled, bitch of a young woman who used to be one of Skeeters best friends, but now has the role of queen of the roost in Jackson, Mississippi. She's super controlling, wielding the power of her personality to keep everyone in line. Hilly is convinced that her opinions and power are unimpeachable. She's nasty and conniving, and Bryce Howard made me hate Hilly. Great job, because that's what you will want to do. When things don't go Hilly's way, back away (and she's counting on you to do so!) Retribution is the club that she wields.
Celia Foote is the newly married import of the best looking man in town, thereby assuring that she will be snubbed by the gaggle of young women in Hilly's crowd. Celia's eyes are the clouded eyes of a woman who doesn't understand why she's being treated this way, why no one will return her calls, that doesn't understand this system of classes with the maids, who's been burned by the pain of not being able to carry a child. The interactions between her and Milly are part of the unraveling of the distance between the races, and it's a large part of the joy of this movie. Milly fights against this, too, in her own part trying to maintain the status quo.
I haven't read the book, but I've been advised by a very wise young woman (Katie) that there's so much more to each of these characters that they just didn't have time to put in the movie (at 2 hours and 17 minutes, it's well worth the time.) I've put it on my reading list for this fall.
Please don't think this is just a "chick" flick. While most of the people in the audience mirrored our group of all women, it is a snap shot of the 1960s in the deep south. I can remember many of the startling sights in this movie, the colored-only water fountains and entrances to buildings. While not a part of this group of well-to-do people who had maids here in Texas, it permeated much of the south in that time. I never saw a sign like that though, until we took a trip to Florida when I was about 11 years old. I can remember asking my mother about why they had those signs on the buildings we traveled through on our car trip. I'm anxious for my husband to see this movie and give me his impressions, since he was raised in that time in Florida. It's an eye opener, and if you're sensitive - please take tissues! I needed them several times, and the very end of the movie especially (those darn house lights came up right away), revealing many tears throughout the theater. My eyes were full of tears! Not nice!
Thanks to my friends who went with me to see this movie, and for the great conversation afterwards! Let's do it again soon.